Hak4Kidz: 4 Reasons to take your kid to a hacking conference

Hak4Kidz: 4 Reasons to take your kid to a hacking conference
Photo credit: Silicon Shecky from Hak4Kidz NFP

Hak4Kidz NFP is a hacking convention for children and young adults. The Chicago Hak4Kidz 2017 event is on June 3rd and registration is open now. I'll be attending with my son, and we are both very excited to go.

But, wait! you may say. I've seen movies! I've seen stock photos of guys in hoodies! Hackers are criminals! They leak emails! They take down websites! They steal identities! Why would you want your kid to learn that stuff?

Hacking skills, like so many other things, can be used for good, bad, or somewhere in between. Hacking is not inherently evil. As Hak4Kidz NFP notes in their promotional materials, their event is run "by ETHICAL hackers and Information Security professionals dedicated to bring[ing] the educational and communal benefits of white hat hacking conferences to children and young adults." Yes, there are hackers who are criminals, but there are also a lot of hackers who use their skills for good, including helping to protect computer systems against criminal hackers. 

There is so much good stuff about hacking. Here are four reasons that I'm taking my son to the Hak4Kidz hacking conference:

1- Hacking encourages creative thinking

Hackers are the creative talent of the technology world. People who work with computers tend to be stereotyped as the opposite of artists. A lot of times that stereotype holds (which may be why we have so much crappy software). Hackers, however, combine creativity with technical knowledge. Thinking like a hacker means looking beyond the obvious limits of something. That's a skill that I want to encourage in my child.

2- Hacking raises security awareness

Yes, a lot of hacking does involve finding the weaknesses in computer systems, but that's a good thing. I want my children to understand what bad stuff can happen online, so they can make better choices about how to use technology. I'm thrilled that part of the Hak4Kidz activities include a session on being safe and secure online. Even if my kids don't follow their mom's footsteps into an information security profession, understanding computer security is valuable knowledge for them to have.

3- There is so much fun stuff on the Hak4Kidz agenda!

Hak4Kidz is not a hackathon. Yes, there are opportunities for kids to learn, use, and improve their coding skills, but there is a wide variety of fun stuff to do.

The stories of how people got into hacking often don't start with computers. Often they say "I liked taking things apart and trying to put them back together." That is hacking at its core. Although hackers tend to apply that inclination to computer systems, hacking can happen in the physical world as well, which is why Hak4Kidz has things like the Technology Destruction Village where kids can disassemble old electronics. For those who want to put things back together there is a soldering workshop.

Hak4Kidz Snap Circuits Station

Another hands on activity is the Snap Circuits station. Photo credit: Silicon Shecky from Hak4Kidz NFP

Also, several of the Hak4Kidz sessions revolve around Minecraft, which is part of why my son is so excited. You may recall that he made a Minecraft world for my birthday.

4- Adults can learn stuff too

My son is very excited about going to Hak4Kidz, but so am I! Robots! Cryptography! Raspberry Pi! The basics should be familiar to me, but there is always more to learn.

hak4kidz badges

Look at these cool decoder badges! Photo credit: Silicon Shecky from Hak4Kidz NFP

Hak4Kidz NFP is a Chicago organization but supports a variety of events around the world.  As I mentioned above, the Chicago Hak4Kidz 2017 event is coming up on June 3rd. Registration is open until May 19. The event is for kids entering third grade through those becoming high school seniors. Admission for one child and one adult is $71. See descriptions of all the Hak4Kidz 2017 activities here. Register for Hak4Kidz here.

Hak4Kidz NFP is a 501(c)(3) charity. If you don't have a kid or can't attend the event you can still support them by donating. Donations of $10 or more get cool stickers.

Oh, and if you are wondering why I am only taking my son and not my daughter, it's primarily because she's not old enough yet. Girls can definitely be hackers!

(FYI - This is not a sponsored post. I just think Hak4Kidz is cool.)

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